In June 2009, my wife and I travelled the length of the USA for five weeks—and up and down the east coast from Washington DC to Boston and back to New York.
This was at the time when H1N1 Swine Flu had reared its head just 2 months earlier, and was in the process of infecting 57 million Americans eventually killing 12,000 of them while no one knew how bad it was really going to get.
Yet, we weren’t scared in the slightest.
You see, we had the cure called “Tamiflu” (that came to fame during the Hong Kong Avian Flu Pandemic a few years earlier) in our suitcase and a good supply of face masks easily found.
In the end, we needed neither.
Today’s Coronavirus is a totally different kind of monster. It is scaring me—and my intuition is pretty solid. The reasons should be obvious:
1. Unlike Swine Flu there is no cure.
2. Swine Flu began in Mexico and the USA, Covid-19 began in China.
3. Western governments are taking information about it from China a known propaganda spreader.
4. Western governments have been focused on financial markets before message.
5. More than ever, nearly every consumer supply chain now starts and flows through the Chinese mainland.
For example, am I really meant to believe that in the whole of Putin’s massive Russia there are only 47 sufferers today and 0 deaths? Am I meant to accept that kids aren’t contracting the disease when I’m seeing them in hospital beds in Italy?
It’s this kind of information disconnection that’s caused fear with Covid-19 on the home-front. And those who’ve been panic buying are not as totally stupid as we’re trying to suggest.
Never before in modern times have entire countries and cities been quarantined. Nobody outside a communist dictatorship really knows what being fenced off means. So people have acted on their own self-rationalised psychology of interests.
Worse—their governments have not ordered them to stop.
What’s exacerbated this has been the move by supermarkets over the past decade towards “Home Brands” and “Just-In-Time” supply routines. This means there’s been less choice on the shelf in good times, and slower shelf refills. So, supplies have now reached their tipping point in the Western World.
China who makes 80% of the world’s active medicinal ingredients, last week threatened to withhold penicillin from the USA. India who makes the bulk of the world’s generic drugs has threatened to stop exports altogether.
Therefore, soap and toilet paper, rice and baked beans, vitamin C and even echinacea have flown into scarcity.
It’s the confusion that’s the worst. I’d easily say that most people reading this have never had the flu as opposed to a bad cold. The flu hits the lungs, fills them with fluid and causes pneumonia. I’ve had pneumonia after someone coughed on me once, and even in a mild form, it’s terrible. You don’t want it.
Well, Covid-19 takes this disease into the intestines, kidneys and the blood’s chemistry. It’s why people with high blood pressure, advanced age and/or diabetes are at risk. Covid-19 attacks the linings that keep the airways open, destroys the lungs and kills the heme—the red in the blood that carries oxygen. It’s a massively intelligent, ruthless respiratory hostile takeover.
At last politicians are letting their experts loose and they’ve begun to say, “that life, as we’ve taken it for granted, these many years will be changing in a big way”. When economists say, “there will not be a world recession but a world shutdown”, we really need to actually let those words sink in.
So, when I hear that cruises are being banned, air routes are being cut, travel is being prohibited and world leaders still have no idea how to speak honestly, I worry.
All I can do now, is be there for my family, my friends and the stranger whose distress breaks down in front of me. I can’t tell anyone where to find a cure. I can’t tell anyone it’s safe to pretend one will come soon.
The only way we’ll have a vaccine in the next few months is if governments like the USA order manufacturers to rush their development and testing processes. These processes exist to ensure that first, their drugs work and then don’t turn into a Thalidomide.
So, we don’t want shortcuts taken. But we also don’t want to see a disease drag on. It may just be that miraculously, an existing drug comes out of the shadows with promise hitherto unknown like Japanese camostat mesylate. No one can yet, definitely say.
And that’s where I am with all this. All I can hope for is a uniform code of behaviour for getting on with our lives—consistent between our closest international partners: Europe and the USA and us. Right now, we can’t even get our States in Australia to gel in their messages and protocols.
We need a clear, true message. What do we need to do to keep our lives and welfare going? What steps are being taken to end panic? If panic buying has hit the USA and Europe, like Australia, then something isn’t right in the way government is working.
That’s why I’m uneasy. Covid-19 hasn’t even begun for earnest in Australia. June-August will likely see hundreds of thousands in each capital city infected. But no pill. August will stretch into December and strategic supplies worldwide will dwindle. Businesses will be bankrupted and credit squeezed. Forget the Olympics, there might not be a November US Presidential Election in the field if going outside is a risk.
Australia needs to brace itself for the regular flu season too. Its 2020 vaccine will only kill most known influenza-type viruses. Not Covid-19.
So, we wait and pray that those around us will be comforted by leadership from the front. We were once a country of mateship and “she’ll be right”. Twenty years of war on terror, however, has stretched our patience and trust thin.
Give me a clued-in prime minister and health officials who are not politically motivated; give me emergency services still dedicated to putting their lives last while being very well paid, and I’ll feel better.
I’m ready for that bad cold. I’m ready for isolation. But I am not ready to see my society fall apart because its politicians are in it for the name rather than the job.
For now, I’ll just watch the media reports roll in. I’ll know that 50% of what’s said will be wrong. And the other 50% hiding what’s really to come.
Because our leaders are scared too. We need to tell them that in a crisis you have to make mistakes. Because you also have to do.
© 2020 Adam Parker.